20 March, 2018, 12:00 am
I thank my friend Sukha Singh for his invitation to respond to his (presumably tongue-in-cheek) letter of 18/3, which nevertheless raises some important questions about translation in Fiji.
First, while it is true that English, iTaukei and Fiji Hindi all use the same alphabet, the Roman alphabet, this does not mean that speakers of one language understand the others. Hundreds of languages around the world use the Roman alphabet, and very few are mutually intelligible. Note incidentally that an alphabet is a system of writing in which letters represent sounds (like the Devanagari alphabet used for Standard Hindi), while “a”, “b”, “c” etc are not alphabets but letters of the alphabet, or characters.
In answer to the question — a very valid one — as to how useful translations into vernacular languages are, the answer is that nobody really knows!
Nor will we come any closer to knowing since the census does not gather information on language use, and the recent one failed to gather information on ethnicity, which is a good guide to language use.
It is my professional view that such translations are useful, but not as useful as they could be if our education system was more geared towards vernacular literacy.
While the vast majority of citizens of Fiji speak a vernacular other than English, very few are totally literate in their vernacular, and this is in my opinion a major failing of our current education system.
Sadly, our nation is still largely in colonial mode, and is yet to wake up to the fact that most of its citizens are not English-speakers, and have a right to be educated and informed in their own languages.